Storm water runoff from agricultural fields, failing residential septic systems, and discharges from municipal and industrial sources continue to contribute to water quality problems in the Portage River watershed, according to a study by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Only about half of the watershed is meeting all of the standards of the Clean Water Act, the study says, raising concerns a proposal to remove trees, brush, and other debris along 46 miles of the east and south branches of the river may result in more runoff of sediment into tributary streams.
Instead, the study recommends meetings with area counties and agricultural organizations to determine if alternatives to traditional stream cleaning could be effective.
The Portage River extends approximately 60 miles from headwater streams near the city of Findlay in Hancock County to its mouth in Lake Erie in Ottawa County near Port Clinton. The four major tributaries include the North Branch, Middle Branch, South Branch, and East Branch; smaller tributaries are Bull, Rocky Ford, Needles, Rader, Sugar and Wolf creeks, and Little Portage River.
Between 2006 and 2008, EPA staffers examined 30 streams in the watershed and found only 54 percent of the streams met aquatic life standards in the Portage watershed.
Some findings of the recently released report include:
• Brush Wellman continues to negatively impact the water quality of the river, accounting for 28 water quality violations in 2008. Four were for acute whole effluent toxicity, 19 for total dissolved solids, three for ammonia, and two for copper. In addition, potential on-going PCB contamination within the sediment and fish are likely attributable in part to the company.
• Construction of the Risingsun waste water treatment plant was completed after the 2008 sampling so the effects of the newly sewered area on Sugar Creek haven’t been documented.
• Failing home sewage treatment systems and areas without sewers contributed to pollution throughout the study area. The study calls a discharge downstream from Rudolph Road into the Middle Branch “extensive.”
• Construction activity at the Port Clinton waste water treatment plant during the sampling may have been responsible for recent spikes in the level of ammonia.
• An unpermitted discharge from Reyskens Dairy had a negative impact on Needles Creek in 2008. The dairy has proposed a plan to prevent a recurrence and the EPA report says future surveys should be conducted to determine if the facility has addressed the issue.
Several Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which typically house thousands of animals, were at various stages of construction throughout the study area. The EPA collected baseline data during the survey to determine what impact the facilities have on water quality once they are operating.
The EPA also conducted sampling of streams that flow directly into Lake Erie or into the Maumee River.
Even fewer streams among the lake and river tributaries met the Clean Water Act standards.